The Power of Teamwork

An LGBT athletic institution in Kansas City celebrates 40 years of bringing people together through softball. The Heart of America league’s gala will be April 23.

Kris Dietz and Kathi “Kat” Finley. Photo: J. Long

The Heart of America Softball League (HASL) is Kansas City’s oldest LGBT sports organization. Kris Dietz and Kathi “Kat” Finley play softball on HASL teams and met with me recently to talk about the league’s 40th Anniversary Gala, which will be April 23 at the Boulevard Brewing Co., 2501 Southwest Blvd, Kansas City, Mo., and what it’s like to play softball with HASL.

“We have a commemorative gala to celebrate the beginning of the 40th season,” said Finley, who is the 40th anniversary chair and a former HASL board member.

The event will run from 6 to 10 p.m. They’re hoping that alumni of HASL from over the years can come out and celebrate and enjoy food and beverages at the brewery.

Of HASL, Finley said, “We started small and have grown into an organization that’s hosted national tournaments, including the ASANA Women’s World Series in September of 2016. We are currently in the running to bring the NAGAAA Gay World Series to Kansas City in 2019.”

Dietz, who has played with HASL for 19 years and serves on the HASL board, said that this year, the Gay World Series will be in Portland, Oregon, and that next year, it will be in Tampa.

For 2019, she said, “there are no other bids on the table, so Kansas City has it alone. But there are certain requirements from NAGAAA, hoops we have to jump through, to ensure that we sign, seal it and get it delivered.”

Finley said that it helped that the ASANA tournament was in Kansas City last year.

“We had women from all over the country here, and we hosted the tournament out at Mid-America [Sports Complex in Shawnee, Kan.]. So that has helped us springboard to a new committee, and they are going to try and make the bid for 2019 on the ‘open’ side.”

HASL has competed in open tournaments, which have both men and women on the teams, and in women’s tournaments.

Team KC Cocktails. Photo: Frank Meredith

“Open division is open to anyone who wants to play,” Dietz said. “So if you had a team of all males, that’s fine. All females, that’s fine. Two males, two females, that’s fine. Whatever the variation is fine. The women’s division is all women or anyone who identifies as female. … For me, I play on two teams. I play for the Rabid Kittens, which is open, and I play for the Alley Katz, which is a women’s team. The Heart of America Softball League is still one of the few leagues left in the nation that still plays together, and we fight for that every year.”

Finley described the camaraderie of the gay softball leagues. “There are a lot of people out there who need a place to go and to belong. It’s nice to know that when you get done playing college ball and you want to play softball and you come into your own and you come out of the closet … you can come to the Heart of America Softball League and play ball. You can start your own team if you want to.”

Dietz and Finley said that any Sunday during their season, people can go out to Mid America and watch the various women’s and men’s teams playing on adjoining fields, while in other areas of the same 70-acre complex, Little League and other teams are playing.

New members are always invited to join HASL. They also invite “non-players” or individuals and families to come out to the baseball fields, have a seat, grab a hot dog or burger and beer and watch their games.

HASL’s opening day is April 30. They now have 12 women’s teams and 10 open teams. Team names are often humorous, such as Scissor Sisters, KC Sons of Pitches and Girls Who Like Bacon.

Finley and Dietz said that people play on HASL teams for lots of reasons, whether for competition, for exercise or simply for recreational time.

ASANA and NAGAAA have questions that help determine how players are rated for the various divisions of competition.

Dietz said the questions are “about how you throw the ball, how you catch the ball, how you field, how you hit, how you run. In order to go to the World Series, you do have to earn a berth. If you’re first or second place, you have the option to go to the World Series in Portland, and if you take third place, you don’t get to go. ASANA is a little bit different, because they are building, so anyone has the option to put in the berth to go.”

Finley said, “But if you win all your games or win zero games, if you’re a women’s team who wants to go to any city that is hosting, you can go. And this year it’s Austin over the July Fourth weekend.”

Finley said that she worked with the Visit KC tourism bureau on the ASANA tournament.

“They’re very supportive,” she said. “I’m pretty sure they’re already talking about the NAGAA tournament. They were unbelievably helpful to us. They reached out to us.”

Dietz estimated that the World Series brings in 150 teams and said the number of people traveling with each team varies, from about 12 to 20.

Finley added: “Plus they have their spouses, partners, some people have their kids with them.”

“That’s another thing we see a lot of, too, now,” said Dietz. “Our Heart of America Softball League is not just about people going out there because there’s nothing to do or no bar open. We’re bringing our kids. My kids grew up going to our softball games. I have to get my 16-year-old daughter a jersey or she’s mad!”

The women said that since same-sex marriage became legal, the league has more married couples, and many have children.

“So now we have to evolve in how we plan things,” said Dietz. “We used to always have our openings and closings in bars. We want to give back to our sponsors that are bars. But now we have so many people who are bringing in babies and toddlers.”

Kris Dietz is married to Holly Dietz, and they have four children. Kat Finley is married to Erica Finley, and they have one son. Both couples live in Gladstone, Mo.

Finley said, “I think at the end of the day, HASL is about family. I think of most of the people in the league as family – they are family to me.”

Dietz said she thought it was good for children of same-sex marriages to see other children who have two moms or two dads at the games.

“People that started this in 1977 could have never imagined the families that would come out with their children,” Dietz said.

“It’s more than the sport, it’s community,” Finley said.

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